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How to Make Your Playground Inclusive and Accessible for Kids with Varying Abilities

Spending time at the playground is an essential part of childhood development. It does not just help a child stay healthy and active but also improves their social, emotional, and cognitive skills.

Hence, every playground must be accessible and inclusive to all children of varying abilities, allowing them to cherish the fun and meaningful experiences with other kids. Whether you have a public playground in a school, neighborhood, church, or homeowner’s association, it’s critical to make it inclusive and accessible as per the ADA guidelines. Every play area needs to possess both these elements.

In this post, you’ll see the difference between accessibility and inclusivity and few effective ways to create a playground that welcomes kids of all abilities.

Accessible Playground versus Inclusive Playground

An accessible playground allows children with or without disabilities and their parents and caregivers to access the area. It allows kids to use a variety of playground equipment and move around freely on the ramps and pathways. The area is designed in compliance with the ADA standards.

An inclusive playground, besides being accessible, allows kids of all abilities and developmental stages to play in the same space while offering them a nurturing environment. That way, no one feels left out.

For instance, most inclusive playgrounds offer a quiet area for kids with invisible disabilities like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory processing disorder, allowing them to escape the commotion without feeling isolated.

Significance of Creating an Accessible and Inclusive Play Space

When a playground is inclusive and accessible, kids with disabilities benefit from free and unstructured play like other kids. This gives everyone equal opportunities for learning and social interaction.

Here are a few benefits of an inclusive and accessible playground.

1. Offers a Stimulating Environment

The exciting activities offered in an accessible and inclusive playground challenges a child’s physical and mental abilities without causing fatigue or stress. The sensory-stimulating activities are designed to engage them positively.

2. Helps Children Gain a Better Understanding of Their Surroundings

When kids of various abilities play together, they get a better understanding of their environment. They learn to make friends and appreciate each other’s differences, similarities, strengths, and constraints.

3. Builds Self-Esteem

An inclusive and accessible play environment boosts self-confidence and self-esteem as children learn new skills and overcome various challenges.

4. Lays the Foundation for an Inclusive Society

Inclusive and accessible playgrounds have life-long positive outcomes. They teach kids and their parents the importance of equality and fairness. Thus, everyone focuses on creating an inclusive society with equal opportunities.

Ways to Make a Playground Accessible and Inclusive

Transforming your play space to incorporate elements of inclusivity and accessibility doesn’t need an enormous amount of money. Here’s how you can create a playground that demonstrates an understanding of a child’s developmental needs and offers equal fun and learning opportunities to all.

1. Critically Evaluate Your Playground

Get to know your playground. Evaluate its current level of accessibility and inclusivity. Here are a few questions that can help you do so.

  • Can kids or adults using wheelchairs or mobility aids easily access the area and playground equipment? Check whether or not all the kids can easily use slides, swings, and climbers.
  • Are the ramps and pathways obstruction-free? Check for deterrents, such as slopes or narrow paths.
  • Can all kids play side by side?
  • Is there enough shade in the play area to protect kids and their caregivers from the sun?
  • Are there resting spaces for parents and guardians?
  • Are there activities that engage senses? For instance, a mix of colors, shapes, textures, and sounds.
  • Can all the playground users enter using the same entrance? This will ensure that no one feels excluded.

The answers to these questions will help you evaluate your playground design and take the most appropriate measures towards making the space more accessible and inclusive.

2. Consider the Unique Needs of the Little Playground Users

The playground should be a safe and enjoyable place for all kids equally. This means considering their specific needs.

Consider the following pointers –

  • Add Sensory Activities – Kids with ASD often feel over or under-stimulated and need to escape to a quiet space or an area where their senses can be stimulated. Make sure you include corners that use sensory-rich activities involving music, light, sand play, and spinning motions.
  • Incorporate Physical Play – Being active is an important aspect of childhood. Kids must be able to easily access equipment that channels their energies. Including swings and monkey bars can help achieve this objective.
  • Create Social Spaces – Include areas and playground equipment where kids can interact and socialize with each other.
  • Opt for Cognitive Play Equipment – Incorporate features like a maze that can help children use their problem-solving and strategic-thinking skills.
  • Prioritize Safety – Playgrounds need to ensure a safe environment for kids. Make sure you regularly inspect and maintain the area to ensure compliance with the ADA standards. For example, using safety rubber surfacing can help create a safe and fun environment for all.
  • Design for Independence – Kids with disabilities often spend their day with parents, caregivers, doctors, or therapists. This can affect their confidence and self-esteem. The playground should be a break from them. It should allow kids to move around freely without assistance. It should challenge their skills and offer them the freedom to just be a child.

3. Get Rid of a Segregated Design

An inclusive playground means kids should be able to interact with other kids and freely engage with the playground equipment. They shouldn’t be restricted from using a specific space because of their limited abilities. Consider creating a space that offers ample opportunities for mixed interactions, not only focused on a specific skill or ability.

4. Invest in Accessible and Inclusive Equipment

Building an accessible and inclusive environment for kids is also about having the right pieces of playground equipment. Here are a few equipment pieces you should consider adding to the play area.

  • Ramps – They help kids of varied abilities to reach elevated levels and enjoy just like other kids.
  • Ground-Level Activities – Equipment and play structures near the ground enables kids to play and enjoy regardless of their developmental or ability levels.
  • Inclusive Swings and Slides- These can have a stimulating effect on a child’s vestibular sense and improve motor skills and coordination.
  • Other Wheelchair Accessible Equipment – Any movement experience is great for children. It helps them develop their coordination and balance. Why should kids on wheelchairs be deprived of this learning? Choose pieces of equipment that allow wheelchairs to easily roll in, allowing all the kids to have fun.

Summing Up

All kids deserve to access a playground freely, learn new skills, and have an enjoyable time without compromising their safety. Hence, playgrounds should be designed for accessibility and inclusivity.

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Creative Director, Rubcorp Distribution, LLC

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